Peoria City Council votes down Cure Violence assessment, as some members propose an alternative
Peoria City Council members continue debate on funding agencies combating violence after rejecting Cure Violence’s assessment in a 6-5 vote. Officials left the lengthy meeting seeking more updates from Mayor Rita Ali’s Safety Network group.
Council heard two presentations Tuesday night about community efforts to reduce crime in the city. Mayor Ali gave a short update on the S-Net’s work this past year.
Using data given by the Peoria Police Department, Mayor Ali states 79% of homicides in Peoria involve gun violence with 80% of homicide victims being Black residents.
Last July, Mayor Ali spoke with former Police Chief Loren Marion about ways to change the statistics.
“The African-American community is disproportionately, severely, impacted with homicides in terms of being the victims as well as those being arrested related to gun violence and homicides,” Ali said on her conversation with Marion. “With the severity, I thought it was very important that the African-American community be included in discussions, in brainstorming; in identifying ways we can address this issue in a more formal, a more effective and a more inclusive manner.”
Mayor Ali and fifty community leaders and members, many from the police department and public schools, met over the last year to discuss violence reduction. They agreed to form S-Net to connect resources and agencies that were otherwise missing viable information.
“In some cases, programs or agencies didn’t know about other programs being offered in this area, so we began sharing information,” Mayor Ali said during her presentation on S-Net. “We began getting connected, referring individuals needing services to the various providers.”
Many members around the horseshoe appreciated Mayor Ali and Assistant Police Chief Brad Dixon for sharing this data. Dixon using data obtained between January to late June 2021 and 2022 says Peoria gun violence is down a year later; data shows a 38% decrease in shooting victims and 54% decrease in shooting murders. In 2021 there was a record-breaking number of city murders, 34 total.
New Beginnings Ministries of Peoria Pastor Martin Johnson and Art Inc. Associate and Assistant Director Jonathon Romain spoke too. Romain states the collaboration with S-Net produced a monetary benefit to his group’s work.
“We [Art Inc.] just submitted our proposal for the R3 grant based on what I shared with S-Net and based off of the changes I made as a result of the feedback…we were just awarded a $600,000 grant to implement that very program,” Romain said. “When we say this is a real solution to a real problem it is no exaggeration.”
Councilman Chuck Grayeb, 2nd District, agrees with fellow members that consistent updates from S-Net should be given to the council. He also mentioned the grants awaiting Peoria in Springfield.
“We have approximately in the state of Illinois just for the city of Peoria about $8 million worth of money for violence interruption programs,” Councilman Grayeb said. “CVG [Cure Violence Global) is one of those and we have another…at least one other proposal that I know of. We could have more.”
Grayeb says taxpayer money should follow clear transparency and asks City Manager Patrick Urich if groups could request RFP (Request for Proposal) before council takes any action.
Urich notes during S-Net vetting proposals CVG was the only evidence-based program. The assessment would see if Peoria would be the right fit for further partnerships, using American Rescue Plan funds to secure the $25 thousand assessment.
Councilman Grayeb as well as At-Large council members Sid Ruckriegel and Zach Oyler asked Carolyn Vazquez to speak about the violence interrupter group Performing Open Hearts. Vazquez introduced council members to Project Amani. Amani means peace in Swahili.
Vazquez says Project Amani focuses on gun violence in a public health context, similarly to Cure Violence. Using the Centers for Disease Control’s model preventing youth violence, the group looks to add mentors and mental health programs in schools to offer better opportunities to young students as one solution.
Performing Open Hearts Urban Consultant Marc Anthony Porch spoke after Vazquez. He spent nearly ten minutes voicing his frustration on Peoria’s response or lack of through the years. Mayor Ali asked Porch to end his comments multiple times before his mic was cut.
Later in the meeting the Cure Violence assessment went to a vote. Two weeks after a reconsideration referral the item failed in the horseshoe, once again, in a 6-5 vote. Councilmembers Kiran Velpula (At-Large), Beth Jensen (At-Large), Denise Jackson (1st Dist.), Andre Allen (4th Dist.), and Mayor Ali voted for the assessment.
Before the vote, councilman Allen spoke on the item sharing his connection to gun violence with the 2007 murder of his best friend, DeAndre Allen.
“[M]e supporting the Cure Violence assessment isn’t a vote of no-confidence in current existing resources in Peoria, but an illustration of continued support ” Allen said. “I feel that if we did an external review of our city to give us a true, unbiased outlook of our city. That will put the proper players, stakeholders, and resources in a position that will give us the best offense to be successful at curbing violence in our city.”